teaching religion

The Atheist Ethicist doesn’t think we should teach religion to children. I mostly disagree.

First, it remains unclear throughout the post what kind of teaching is being talked about. Is this teaching religion in schools, at home, in churches or anywhere and at all?

Second, his main reason for not teaching religion is that it contains (many) flase beliefs and that we should avoid teaching false beliefs. This makes pleanty of sense on a superficial level. Of course we shouldn’t teach lies to children! But that being said, current science is full of false beliefs, only we don’t know how to pinpoint them. So we teach it all and let the kids know that some of it will have to be revised in the future when we know better. There is no reason why we couldn’t teach religion in exactly the same way.

Third, the second part of the argument is that religion makes people have bad desires. Admittedly this is not as much as problem with, say mathematics (if you except the desire to strangle your teacher for giving impossible homework). Nevertheless, you need only ban the teaching of bad desires (“Ok teachers, you are no longer allowed to teach that suicide-bombing is good; it’s been cut from the curriculum”). Religion also encourages many good desires. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Fourth, religion is much more than an ecclectic mass of true or false beliefs. Religion is a social institution that gets people to do good (and bad) things.  It is also a set of rituals that provide meaning in life. Banning the teaching of religious facts is not going to do anything towards adressing the ‘problem’ of a gigantic social institution. If you are going to ban the teaching of religion, you had might as well ban religion altogether – and you had might as well throw cigarettes and all inflamable liquids into the legislation while you’re at it.

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One Comment to “teaching religion”

  1. Some notes on your comments:

    First, the answer is ‘anywhere at all’.

    Second, I specify that the badness of teaching any particular religion is proportional to the degree of error (false beliefs, bad desires) that are being taught, and that religion is not the only source of false beliefs.

    Third, I will address the issue of teaching bad desires in tonight’s posting. It will also address the issue of ‘a meaningful life’ and ‘teaching good desires’.

    Fourth, I said that teaching religion to children is bad. I did not argue for – and, in fact, in Part IV of this series, I intend to argue solidly against, banning it through legislation. Rather, the legitimate way to inhibit the teaching of religion is to explain people that it is bad to do so and to get them to give it up voluntarily. This won’t be entirely successful. However, every measure of success would be a benefit to mankind. I will publish this argument on Tuesday night.

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